Thought Leadership

Affluent Investors and Lessons From Behavioral Science

December 16, 2021
Author: David Keen
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Why don’t people do what they say? The simple answer is that human beings are complex, and we rely on different decision-making processes in different contexts—often unaware of what is truly driving our behavior. At the core, behavioral sciences (BeSci) is built on the idea that people often can’t articulate why they do what they do. That’s because we process decisions through an internal—and often subconscious—filter before we act.

With BeSci, we identify the decision-making mindsets people are in when assessing brands, products and services in virtually any category, including the wealth management space.

There are hundreds of different biases, mindsets and behavioral frameworks—loss aversion, risk propensity and regulatory focus, to name a few. Our PhD behavioral scientists are practiced experts who know how to determine which one is most relevant for a particular application. For the 2021 installment of our Investor Brand Builder report, we selected regulatory focus as the lens through which to examine the subconscious, contextual and unarticulated drivers of behavior.

To be more specific, a person’s regulatory focus is a specific strategic and motivational orientation that the person adopts when pursuing a goal (Higgins, 1997).

It describes two orientations people have: promotion and prevention.

  • A person with a promotion focus is more concerned about pursuing goals related to one’s ideal self, which includes achievement and growth.
  • A person with a prevention focus is more concerned about pursuing goals related to one’s ought self, which includes duties and responsibilities (Higgins, 1998).

These orientations are not fixed and can change over time or between contexts.

Applying the regulatory focus framework for affluent investors reveals specific product and communication implications to consider when developing communication and targeting plans.

Promotion Investors

Prevention Investors

  • More likely to be interested in how products can help them achieve their goals.
  • More persuaded by communication framed in terms of gains. Therefore, when speaking to Promotion investors, communication should emphasize what they can gain and how products and services can help them achieve their goals.
  • More interested in the promising, luxurious and comfortable qualities in products (i.e., attributes beyond the essentials).
  • Higher willingness to accept new options and new courses of action, higher willingness to take investment risks, and higher likelihood to rely on feelings and implicit preferences in judgment.
  • More likely to be interested in how products can help them avoid negative consequences.
  • More persuaded by communication framed in terms of losses. Therefore, when speaking to prevention investors, communication should emphasize how products and services can help protect them from losses.
  • More interested in the safe and reliable aspects of a product.
  • Prefer status quo options and to make more conservative investments, and are more skeptical of persuasion attempts.


While these findings speak to what would most interest or appeal to investors, applying the regulatory focus framework can also give us insight into where each of these audiences may go for information. Promotion investors are more likely than Prevention investors to use specialized business and financial news media outlets when seeking investment-related information. They are also more likely than Prevention investors to keep up with changes in the investing environment through the news or speaking with their advisor. Therefore, while brand-building communication through business and financial news media sources will more efficiently deliver promotion-based messaging, it will take additional effort to reach Prevention investors through general news media or their financial advisor.

Our initial exploration into the world of affluent investors through a regulatory focus framework has identified notable differences in attitudes and behaviors depending on investors’ mindset, with additional insights found within our 2021 Investor Brand Builder report. Understanding how each particular focus (i.e., promotion versus prevention) is associated with specific behaviors and actions will enable distributors, product providers and financial advisors to deepen their relationships with end investors.

Outside of the report, our team of behavioral scientists can apply regulatory focus and other behavioral frameworks to review your marketing collateral, including concepts, ads, web copy and apps to:

  • Identify the subconscious communication you are delivering
  • Suggest strategic use of different BeSci principles to improve your business outcomes
  • Recommend interventions to achieve sustained behavioral change

Click below to learn more about the full Investor Brand Builder report or send us a note to learn more about applying BeSci to build your business and your brand.

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David Keen
David Keen
Senior Director, Financial Services

Dave is a Senior Director in the Financial Services Division. With over 20 years of supplier side experience, Dave’s specialties include assisting clients with customer satisfaction & loyalty issues, brand equity assessment, marketing communications testing, new product/service development, and market segmentation. Dave has serviced a wide range of client types, including those in the wealth management space, across both qualitative and quantitative engagements. He also brings broad-based expertise in survey methods, study design, and advanced analytics. Dave holds an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Michigan, a B.A. in Marketing from Michigan State University, and held internships at the Institute for Social Research and the Gallup Organization.